It appears the Sacramento Kings have kicked aside the boring brand of basketball that has plagued them for years. Unfortunately, they have work to do to rid themselves of the losing. In the much anticipated debut of Rudy Gay, the Kings and Phoenix Suns played a fast-paced, entertaining first half full of offense. The winner would be the first team that decided to actually play defense, and that team was the Suns. Phoenix tightened the screws defensively and hustled past the Kings for a 116-107 victory.
GAY TAKES THE COURT – Rudy Gay (36 MIN, 24 PTS, 8-12 FG, 0-3 3FG, 8-9 FT, 1 REB, 1 AST, 2 BLK, 1 STL, 2 TO) finally took the floor for the Kings on Friday. All Kings fans have been hearing since the trade was that Gay is an inefficient chucker, but in this one, the Kings new starting small forward started the game quite timid as he sought to find a comfort zone. He floated aimlessly for much of the first quarter, but after getting a few turnaround jumpers to fall out of the post, Gay seemed to settle in. He was clearly more passive than you’d expect, but his terrific scoring ability was on full display. Gay glided through the lane for some gorgeous finger rolls (using both hands) and drilled some pull-up jumpers from midrange. There was no overshooting, no forces. Gay seemed content to defer to his teammates. He made a great first impression and did it relatively quietly. Things should only get better as he learns about his new teammates and offense. Over time, Gay will recognize when he can assert himself and perhaps the next time Sacramento is struggling for offense down the stretch, Rudy can be the one to provide it.
NEWCOMER GRAY SURPRISES – Gay was obviously the centerpiece to the trade, and Quincy Acy got some recognition as an intriguing throw-in. But nobody was talking about seven-footer Aaron Gray. After Friday, the acquisition of Gray (13 MIN, 7 PTS, 3-6 FG, 9 REB, 6 O-REB) looks like it could actually pay dividends. Gray was a surprise standout against the Suns. As the backup to DeMarcus Cousins, Gray stepped in and asserted himself on both ends. Offensively, Gray was constantly moving, setting hard screens on the perimeter, rolling to the basket and establishing position for offensive boards. Defensively, the big man displayed his agility by showing well on screens and rotating effectively down low. All in all, Gray’s nimble feet were a surprise, and he clearly has a good idea of his own skill set and what he brings to a team. He should make a fine reserve going forward.
PHOENIX BACKCOURT DOMINATES – The athletic backcourt pairing of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe was a nightmare for the Kings to defend. Sacramento lucked out by missing Bledsoe in the teams’ previous meetings, but Friday, the Suns guard joined Dragic to slice up the Kings defense. Both players alternated ball-handling duties, and Sacramento just could not stay in front of either player. Isaiah Thomas (42 MIN, 29 PTS, 11-20 FG, 3-6 3FG, 4-4 FT, 6 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 3 TO) rose to the challenge and was a scoring dynamo in the first half. But the Kings got absolutely nothing from the shooting guard spot — Ben McLemore (27 MIN, 1-6 FG) and Marcus Thornton (21 MIN, 1-7 FG) combined to shoot 2-of-13 from the floor.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – DeMarcus Cousins (34 MIN, 15 PTS, 5-16 FG, 16 REB, 5 AST, 5 STL, 1 BLK, 3 TO) worked hard but the Suns defense seemed to frustrate him. He played a solid first half, but never got fully comfortable down low after halftime. Credit to Miles Plumlee and the Suns defensive strategy … Derrick Williams (30 MIN, 14 PTS, 4-10 FG, 2-3 3FG, 4-4 FT, 4 REB) came off the bench and played a very solid game. He showed his scoring ability, making strong, athletic moves to the rim while also popping out for some perimeter success. He led the team with a +20 plus/minus rating. As expected, D-Will was still called upon for crunch time minutes … Not much to like about Jason Thompson’s performance. He no doubt gets called for many ticky-tack fouls, but he lets those calls completely take him out of the game. He mustered zero rebounds, five fouls and a horrendous -25 plus/minus rating in 14 minutes … Jimmer Fredette (6 MIN, 2 PTS, 1-2 FG, 1 STL, 1 TO) again got the call for first half backup point guard minutes. But because of his ineffectiveness, Isaiah played the entire second half … Phoenix hit a scorching 12-of-24 shots from three-point range.